Would a 4-day work week be realistic for Calgary’s workforce?

The way we work has changed forever and Iceland’s study on 4-day work weeks has us all dreaming of a life filled with shorter weeks and long weekends.

By Krista Sylvester | July 19, 2021 |3:13 am

There are conflicting reports about whether a four-day workweek could be successful in North America, but researchers in Iceland say it leads to elevated production levels from overworked employees.

Photo: Shuttershock

Imagine it: you’re working Monday to Thursday with a three-day weekend. Fewer hours for the same pay. More time to focus on your quality of life while spending time with friends and family. 

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? It might not be, according to some experts, including Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin, who took on the role earlier this month. 

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“I think everything’s on the table right now, in terms of how companies bring people back to work, what that workplace looks like, and what their expectations are,” she tells Calgary Citizen. 

“As we have learned through the pandemic, the way we work has changed forever.” 

Like many North American major cities, our workers tend to be overworked, and the culture of working long hours was often seen as a badge of honour, though in the energy sector, it was common to lure talent with the promise of Fridays off during the summer, Yedlin adds. 

“Companies were hiring people, and to keep their staff they were giving them Fridays off… most companies had this policy. We’ve actually been there in the past, so there is some DNA to sort of go back to and see how that works.” 

Reduced hours might not have seemed like a viable option in Corporate Calgary pre-pandemic, but if COVID has shown us anything; it’s that employees and employers are more adaptable than they used to be. 

It’s growingly less important when the work gets done — as long as it’s done 

“The fundamental shift, from my perspective, is we’re transitioning from time-based work to task-based work,” she says, adding that as long as people get their work done properly, how they get it done and when they get it done should be up to them. 

Yedlin says companies need to be flexible about what that looks like. 

“Whether that means four days a week, if it means, you know, front end loading your workweek so that you have more time off on a Friday. Does that mean eight to four, six to two, whatever that number is, we don’t know what that number is anymore.” 

The biggest challenge now has shifted from trusting people will get the work done from home to ensuring that people maintain a healthy work-life balance, Yedlin says. 

“There’s still a mentality that if you’re not working at the office, your productivity level is down… that’s completely debunked. The problem is people have been working at home and are not taking time to build the boundaries and now they’re burnt out.” 

Iceland tackled this with a study on a four-day workweek 

A recent study conducted in Iceland led officials to say the four-day workweek pilot was an “overwhelming success.” The Byte reported, the experimental drop to a four-day workweek for 2,500 employees in Iceland resulted in workers being both more productive and satisfied with their jobs and lives. 

Now that the experiment is complete, it could help shape the way other countries view the traditional work week and work-life balance — and it’s not the only one. 

But there were some flaws…..

Since the initial report about Iceland’s “overwhelming” success of a four-day workweek made its rounds on social media, stories are now coming saying the report is flawed and might not be that successful after all. 

The Conversation reported that “the results of Iceland’s four-day workweek trial are greatly overstated.” According to that article’s criticism, “a four-day week trial would have involved reducing the working week by seven to eight hours. Instead, the maximum reduction in these trials was just four hours. In 61 of the 66 workplaces, it was one to three hours.”

Wired has similar criticisms, pointing out a second caveat: “while productivity gains made up for fewer working hours, not all jobs can be done in shorter shifts.” 

It’s still sparked a viral conversation world-wide 

Many companies are recognizing the importance of a healthy work-life balance for their employees. 

A 2020 study from the Fraser Institute says that if Canada boosts productivity by 2% each year over the next decade, the average worker could make more money and enjoy a three-day weekend, though at the expense of more productivity on the other days. 

In June, crowd-funding platform Kickstarter announced a four-day workweek to start in 2022 at its Brooklyn headquarters. Social media software company Buffer announced last year they would allow their employees to work four days a week until the end of the year — and they are still doing it now, according to The Atlantic. 

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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